Claude Mumbere (right), charged with the second-degree murder of Kelly Cusson (left), pleaded innocent yesterday to a 2021 aggravated assault.
By Michael Bielawski
After making headlines last week for facing second-degree murder charges in the suspicious death of a 31-year-old woman at South Champlain Street Park earlier in the month, a young man who once made headlines as a standout Burlington High School student and poet has now been charged with another disturbing crime.
Claude Mumbere of Colchester pleaded innocent yesterday to charges of aggravated assault in connection with a 2021 crime. He entered his plea remotely from his incarceration in a Vermont prison, where he is being held following his arraignment on the murder charge.
“On July 19, 2023, the Burlington Police Department was contacted by an officer from the Winooski Police Department who recognized Claude Mumbere, 29, of Colchester,” the Burlington Police Department’s press release states.
It continues, “After reviewing the BPD’s press release update on [the murder case], the officer recognized Mumbere as the suspect from a previous aggravated assault that took place in Burlington. The officer advised a trooper from the Vermont State Police also believed he knew the identity of the suspect.”
Regarding the murder, police say the body of a young woman, Kelley Cusson, was found at South Champlain Street Park on July 7. Police were called at about 10:30 a.m. The body, which had been first seen by school children, had signs of sexual assault and the case was being treated as a homicide investigation.
Then ten days after that incident, on Monday July 17, the suspect Mumbere was apprehended. Police reports indicate that he had left fingerprints on the scene as well as on a hat and the sole of his shoe was still at the scene while his shoe was missing the sole at the time police had found him.
Mumbere is now facing second-degree murder charges.
An “unprovoked and random” attack
The additional aggravated assault charge occurred in 2021. Again fingerprints helped police connect him to the crime, this time left on a high-alcohol-content canned beverage.
Details from the 2021 police report indicated the disturbing nature of this crime. It states, “The preliminary investigation indicated the female victim was struck multiple times in the face and head with a cleated aluminum snowshoe. The victim received serious facial injuries and was transported to the University of Vermont Medical Center for medical treatment. In reviewing surveillance video, it appears this attack was unprovoked and random.”
An excellent student, athlete, and poet
Searching for Mumbere’s name in the news will not always bring stories of trouble. Mumbere’s father was an African Studies professor at St. Michael’s College. The family emigrated from the Democratic Republic of Congo almost 20 years ago.
As a teenager, he had been celebrated by local media for his talents, which reportedly included a ‘James Earl Jones’ style speaking voice and a broad repertoire of classical poetry. In both 2011 and 2012, he was the winner of Vermont’s Poetry Out Loud competition while a student at Burlington High School, and he made it to second place at the national level.
An excerpt from one such report appearing in Seven Days from 2011 states, “Mumbere is a varsity soccer player and an ‘excellent student,’ according to his English teacher Benjamin Roesch. ‘He’s my student in the honors-level American literature seminar,’ Roesch says.”
The story continues that Mumbere was being encouraged by friends to get into theater but he was more interested in pursuing medicine.
According to a recent report in the Vermont Daily Chronicle, he was even recognized once by the State Legislature via a resolution, and his work resume ranges from working with Planned Parenthood and with VPIRG on promoting carbon taxes to voicework for a NASA documentary.
The report also notes that he was expressing outrage in some concerning Facebook posts, one of them stating, “My hatred for this land I find myself in grows stronger every day.”
State’s Attorney Sarah George under scrutiny
Media commentators have been critical of State Attorney Sarah George for being too light on her sentencing for various types of crime, especially regarding repeat offenders. During the initial press conference regarding the Mumbere murder charge, it was noted that “Mumbere had more than a dozen court cases, including lewd and lascivious behavior, going back to 2020. Some are still pending, due to mental health questions,” the VDC reported.
George cited a backlog in cases attributed to the COVID lockdowns as part of the reason some cases have not yet been completed.
Michael Bielawski is a reporter for the Vermont Daily Chronicle. He is a former reporter for True North Reports.